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Carmageddon: Hours before closure, freeway is 'eerily' empty

As crews prepared to close onramps, the few drivers who braved the 405 Freeway said it was the 'quickest Friday commute ever.' Officials have planned for the worst but expect it to go 'very, very smoothly.'

July 16, 2011|By Ari Bloomekatz and Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times
  • Officials from the LAPD, California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles Fire Department officials are on alert at the Emergency Operation Center downtown.
Officials from the LAPD, California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles Fire… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

Hours before the demolition equipment took over the 405 Freeway, there was no sign of the "Carmageddon" that Angelenos have been dreading for weeks.

With most people staying away to avoid the imminent shutdown, the few who remained got to enjoy what Twitter users called "eerily open" lanes and the "quickest Friday commute ever."

Earlier in the day, city and county officials huddled at the Emergency Operations Center in downtown Los Angeles had predicted that this weekend's freeway closure would go off without a hitch — as long as motorists stay off the road.

PHOTOS: 'Carmageddon' closes the 405 Freeway

"The day is upon us," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared ominously to a crowded room of reporters.

"We've been stressing to the residents of Los Angeles for three months now: Los Angeles has to plan ahead, we hope you will heed our advice," Villaraigosa said. "It's really going to depend on you. A lot of talk about 'Carmageddon,' and I expect, because of the unprecedented effort … we believe this will go very, very smoothly, but it does depend on you."

The 405, which carries about 500,000 vehicles on a normal summer weekend through the Sepulveda Pass, will be closed along the 10-mile-stretch from the 101 Freeway to the 10 Freeway as workers batter away at the southern half of the Mulholland Drive bridge and remove some 4,000 tons of concrete — part of a larger, $1-billion freeway improvement project that includes adding a northbound carpool lane.

Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and construction workers started sealing off the freeway at 7 p.m. They began with onramps, moved to freeway connectors, then steadily reduced the number of lanes, starting with carpool lanes and ending with the slow lanes.

About 100 partygoers, some donning Caltrans costumes, frolicked beside the Courtyard Marriott pool overlooking an onramp where real Caltrans workers were setting out traffic cones and signs marking the closure.

More traffic cones and trucks equipped with crash cushions were scheduled to be in place by midnight to block the freeway. Motorists approaching the closure were redirected to the 10 or 101 freeways.

Under worst-case scenarios, transportation officials fear the closure might trigger a domino effect of gridlock on surrounding freeways and surface streets.

"The worst case is it could be backing up to the 110," Mike Barbour, Metro's director for the Sepulveda Pass widening project, said earlier in the day. "We're talking a significant 20 miles or so. It really depends on if people are staying away or not."

To deal with the closure, public safety agencies have increased staffing and positioned paramedics and firefighters in neighborhoods that could be affected. Hospitals, such as Ronald Reagan-UCLA Medical Center, also have taken measures to remain adequately staffed through the weekend.

Kirk Albanese, a deputy chief in the Los Angeles Police Department, told reporters that response times to emergencies may be quicker than ever because teams of fire, police, emergency and traffic officers have been positioned in more than a dozen areas immediately affected by the closure. They have also identified dozens of locations for helicopters to land if necessary.

The closure has also prompted area residents to rearrange their social calendars and revise travel plans. Businesses, especially some restaurants on the Westside, have offered Carmageddon specials to attract customers, and one airline, JetBlue, added a discount flight between Long Beach and Burbank to jump over the 405. The cost: $4 a seat. It sold out in a couple of hours.

There are plans to respond quickly to any brush fire, heart attack, shooting or other emergency. Officials have said the freeway will be totally open by early Monday, but recently said there is a chance the road could reopen much earlier.

PHOTOS: 'Carmageddon' closes the 405 Freeway

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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